A brief shower left the hot tarmac steaming as we approached the Danish border. We were cycling north through the farmland of Schleswig – Holstein in exceptionally hot temperatures. It was cooler to keep moving and create a breeze than to stop, even in the shade. On a couple of days we treated ourselves to a whole tub of ice cream, shared between the two of us, to cool us from the inside out.
Doing so much cycling, we didn’t need to worry about the calorie count! Sun burn though, was a concern. We brought a tube of sun bloc all the way from Scotland and had used it on most days on our arms, legs, noses and ears. Now we were needing to apply it twice a day and we were running low. It is a classic case, that having bought a new tube, the clouds appeared and now, almost four weeks later we are yet to open it!
During this heatwave, we stopped off at Friedrichstadt. German Warmshower hosts, Birgit and Jürgen, recommended we visit it on our journey north in this narrow arm of Germany that stretches up to southern Denmark. The town was founded by Dutch immigrants invited here by Duke Friedrich III of Holstein-Gottorp in 1621 to invest capital and knowledge in the area and thereby escape religious persecution in their homeland. They brought Dutch architectural styles with them, drained the surrounding marsh, and dug canals between the river Eider and Treene creating a mini Amsterdam. Now it is a big tourist attraction, and we rubbed shoulders with visitors from around the globe: Japan, Britain, USA, Scandinavia and Asia. Keen to find out more about the place, we bought a self guided tour leaflet from the tourist information office and headed off through the main square and down the surrounding lanes. In the heat of the afternoon, our fully laden bikes were quite a burden to push around so we blew the budget and checked in at the local campsite. Then, unencumbered we went off to explore the town. Particularly poignant was the former Synagogue, now used as a culture and memorial house, for none of the Jewish residents of Friedrichstadt survived the holocaust. The most photographed buildings in the town are the nine conjoined stepped gabled houses that lie on the west side of the market square.
Much of the rest of the town is more modest in its scale and has a more homely character.
Roses lined the roads the next day and their scent filled our nostrils and cheered us on towards the Danish border.
We stopped in the German town of Leck to pick up some lunch items and were surprised by no fewer than four people coming up to chat to us, finding out where we were from, where we were travelling to and telling us of their cycle touring experiences. We now have several suggestions of places to tour in Germany on our way south later in the year.
Despite the heat, we were going well and we decided to push on to Denmark. On the border, we found our first ‘country sign’ since crossing into England back in the middle of May.
The Danish, whilst part of the Euro like to remind themselves and others of their separate nationhood. They have retained their own currency, the Danish Krone, and a high proportion of houses have a flag pole in the garden from which the owner proudly flies the Danish flag – a white cross on a red background.
Arriving in Scandinavia brought on a rush of excitement for both of us. We were heading north, the landscape was becoming a bit more wild and we could escape from the clutches of expensive campsites. Whilst the Danes don’t have much uncultivated land, they are, never the less, keen on ‘wild camping’. To encourage Danes to explore their small country on foot, by bike and on horse, and experience fresh air, tranquillity and refuge, they have created the Shelter system.
Government departments, organisations and individuals were invited to join the scheme in offering a wooden shelter or a camping place. All the sites have been collected into an App that gives information on location and facilities. During our stay in Denmark we tried as wide a variety as we could, and found ourselves camping at a Scout site, a Viking museum, in a retired farmer’s orchard, in a State forestry plantation with no facilities, on the coastal sand dune and sleeping in a wooden shelter by a restored windmill for two memorable nights whilst storm force winds blasted the country.
Private individuals may charge for using their toilet and shower but the fee is usually only 20 – 30 Krone per person (roughly £2 – £3). The shelters are numerous and widespread so we were able to set out in the morning and only decide where we would stay for the night around 16:00 hrs. Only the most popular sites by beaches require booking and we chose the quieter sites. When drinking water wasn’t available, we filled up our water bladder at a nearby churchyard on our way to the site. We loved this system, the simplicity of the sites, their good condition, and that it offered a cheap way for people (may be even young people) to get out and explore (something that the youth hostels used to provide).
We camped mostly, even when there was a shelter as our tent is warmer and we feel more secure in it. The latter is a little bizarre as there are only two thin bits of fabric between us and the outside world. During the storm we tried out sleeping in the shelter, this saved our tent from a bashing and was a lot quieter without a flapping tent. It is also very sheltered for cooking and we had a lovely view out across a field of barley. The one slightly surprising thing about almost all these ‘wild’ camping spots was their proximity to roads and houses. The shelter by the windmill was just behind someone’s house in the village of Lyngs and the Scout site was next to a main road.
Cycling north through Denmark on the west coast took us along and through some of Northern Europe’s biggest shifting sand dunes. The largest, at Rabjerg Mile moves northeastwards by roughly 15 metres a year and is swallowing up whole buildings. The lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude was built in green fields on cliffs 60 metres high just over 100 years ago. It was set back from the sea by 200 metres. Now, only the tower is visible, the two storey building beneath has disappeared into the rapidly encroaching dune.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1968 and converted to a museum. By 2002, the staff were serving ice cream to visitors out of a first floor window! Now the building lies abandoned just a short step from the rapidly approaching cliff. The Danes have worked hard to stabilise the dunes with tree plantations and the environment is internationally recognised for its plants and animals.
Ribe, the oldest town in Denmark, is twinned with Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK, that we visited on our way south through England. What they both have in common is a cathedral tower that can be seen for miles across the flat landscape of the surrounding countryside. I visited Ribe back in 1986 with a previous boyfriend and had a vague memory of mediaeval houses and a bleak wet day. This time the sun shone and I was able to share the experience with Jerry. We left our loaded bikes padlocked outside a restaurant bar by the tourist office and went off to explore the old cobblestone streets. Much of the old town was built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The numerous half timber framed houses lean out over the lanes and could easily be the stage for a Tudor drama.
The town and its surrounding marshlands have frequently been threatened by floods. Down by the quay we discovered a column marking the heights of the worst floods.
High up on the column, over 6 metres above the river, is a ring marking the flood of 1634. This event had a catastrophic effect on the town, washing away several houses and farms, and many people drowned. Returning to the town square, we sat down in the evening sunshine to hear the cathedral tower carillon play the melody of a hymn by Hans Adolf Brorson, Denmark’s famous hymn writer, entitled “The most beautiful rose has been found”.
Tvinde skolerne has history of a more modern kind. Back in 1974, the teachers at the controversial folk high school, decided to build a great wind turbine to provide the energy required by the school. In the face of much scepticism and opposition, a 53 metre high concrete tower was built and the blades and generator installed at the top. It was the largest turbine to have been built at the time and in 1978 it began producing electricity.
The success of the windmill contributed greatly to the Government’s decision to invest in renewable energy rather than nuclear power. We found the school and its turbine by chance, through the Warmshowers network and were warmly welcomed by staff and students. At an evening film quiz we were invited to join, Jerry displayed a hidden talent for recognising film theme tunes. The next morning, we were offered the opportunity by our host, Ferenc, to visit the wind turbine. Ferenc gave us a guided tour, telling us about its history, how the school is working to maintain and repair this historic machine and taking us up in its internal lift to view the generator and the inside of the its welded metal cap. It was a windy day and both Jerry and I were a little taken aback at how much a solid concrete tower can sway. We both hoped that this wasn’t the day when the whole thing finally cracked.
Norway was calling and we headed to Frederikshavn to take the ferry to Oslo. By booking online through a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that put our location in the Netherlands, we found a great deal that got us tickets for this 9 hour voyage for just €24.00 each ( £17.15). Less than we had paid to cross the English Channel. We stayed our final night in Denmark with Carsten. A mad keen cyclist who has his own rickshaw business for festivals and special events, such as weddings. We pooled our food and had a tasty BBQ meal sitting on his decking sharing stories of bike touring in foreign lands.